Germany's chancellor lights first Hanukkah candle on a huge menorah at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate

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BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday expressed his unwavering support for the Jewish people as he lit the first candle of Hanukkah on a huge menorah in front of Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate.

“I wish that the candle of Hanukkah will shine far beyond this square and much longer than just for the eight days of Hanukkah,” Scholz, wearing a black velvet skullcap, said in the center of the German capital.

Hanukkah, also known as Judaism’s festival of lights, marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C., after a small group of Jewish fighters liberated it from occupying foreign forces.

This year’s holiday comes as many Jews feel traumatized by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and in which the militants took some 240 as hostages. The attack triggered the latest Israel-Hamas war, which has so far killed more than 16,200 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run territory’s Health Ministry. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

“Hanukkah stands for hope and confidence. Both are especially needed these days," the German chancellor said. "The Hamas terror attack on Israel has shaken us all deeply.”

“Each and every one of us must clearly oppose this terror," added Scholz, who has been an outspoken supporter of Israel and has stressed many times Israel's right to defend itself against the militant Hamas group.

Berlin Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, whose great-grandfather was murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust, called on Jews and non-Jews alike to confront the hatred with love.

“The answer is not to retreat, but on the contrary: more light, more joy, more Jewish consciousness," the rabbi said to cheers from the crowd.

Germany has seen a massive rise in antisemitic crimes since Oct. 7.

On Thursday, Berlin security officials said that in the two months since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, there were 1,372 crimes in Berlin with an anti-Israel context, while 133 crimes were found to have an anti-Palestinian connection.

Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner reminded those gathered for the ceremony how 85 years ago, on Nov. 9, 1938, or Kristallnacht — the “Night of Broken Glass” — Nazis terrorized Jews throughout Germany and Austria.

Kristallnacht was a turning point in the escalating persecution of Jews that eventually led to the killing of 6 million European Jews by the Nazis and their supporters during the Holocaust.

“85 year ago, the Nazis marched here, through Brandenburg Gate, with torches in Berlin,” Mayor Kai Wegner said. “Today, Brandenburg Gate stands for freedom and democracy."

"And that’s also what Berlin stands for: for freedom, for diversity and for democracy,” he added.